It took two years for the Lumiére brothers and their cinematograph to make their way to Italy. A year later, the country had produced a motion picture of its own and in 1911, just fifteen years after Auguste and Louis had wowed crowds in Rome and Naples, Italy was home to the first avant-garde movement in cinema (the Italian Futurism movement). In 1934, the government built a massive film studio, called Cinecittà – "Cinema City." Italy’s love affair with cinema runs deep and stretches back. It is an integral part of its cultural history.
And Italian cinema has been an important part of the American Cinematheque’s history - although tonight was my first experience. I stood at the top of a long red carpet feeling somewhat underdressed - actors, screenwriters, directors and producers standing around me smiling into flashbulbs. This tiny piece of America briefly invaded by the Italian film industry - a stylish, handsome army here for the opening night of Cinema Italian Style, 2015.
They had brought with them the country's 2015 Oscar submission, Non Essere Cattivo (Don’t Be Bad); the last film by the widely admired Claudio Caligari. There will be six other films shown November 12-16, many of them introduced at the Egyptian and Aero theatres by the people who made them, offering audiences a unique insight and introduction into the world of Italian Cinema. And It’s no accident that so many of them are in the city at this time; the American Cinematheque is thought of highly by filmmakers in Italy, a fact touched upon by the Consulate General himself as he praised the efforts of the organization for putting together a "rich and exciting program of Italian film for the people of Los Angeles”.
The Consulate General talked not only about the artistic significance of bringing new Italian cinema to the people of Hollywood, but also the cultural and economic significance. Seeing Italy up on the big screen, he argued, got people dreaming of the beautiful boot-shaped country, with its wonderful food, picturesque fishing villages, and relics of its ancient past. He ended his speech by acknowledging that it was "Cinema Italian Style" which first introduced La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) to American audiences, and the 2013 Paolo Sorrentino film won in the Best Foreign Language category at the 86th Academy Awards. The months following that screening were a whirlwind that took the cast and crew all the way to the Dolby Theatre. It was big moment for Italian cinema.
This year, Don’t Be Bad will be hoping history repeats itself and if life were like a movie, then perhaps it might. Don’t Be Bad is the final film by Claudio Caligari, a filmmaker famous in Italy for the 1983 movie Amore Tossico (Toxic Love), an uncompromising, non-prejudiced look at heroin addiction that won the De Sica Award at the 40th Venice International Film Festival and catapulted Caligari to stardom. Don’t Be Bad has the filmmaker returning to a familiar subject, this time the amphetamine craze of the 1990s. The movie portrays the hopelessness of the working class in Ostia, a province on the outskirts of Rome, and it’s anchored by the fine performances of its lead actors, Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi.
To end the beginning of Cinema Italian Style 2015, awards were presented to Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Valerio Mastandrea. Tedeschi’s 2013 film, Un Chateau en Italie (A Castle in Italy) was nominated for the Palme d’Or. Audiences at this year’s Cinema Italian Style can see her in Latin Lover, the Italian comedy-drama showing at the Aero. The award was especially emotional for Mastandrea, a close friend of Claudio Caligari and producer of Don’t Be Bad. He used his influence in Italy to get the film made and he worked tirelessly in post-production to get it finished. Valerio dedicated his award to the memory of Caligari.
By the time you read this, the festival will be over and the Italians long gone. But next year they’ll be back, and we in this city will carry on being spoiled by the rich, memorable, often beautiful films of Italian cinema.